Readmission agreements contribute little to migrant return

Not all migrants who come to Europe are allowed to stay. However, a substantial group with no right of residence does not return. To encourage migrant return, the Netherlands and other European countries have signed agreements with countries of origin on readmission cooperation. Only some of these signed agreements make a limited contribution to the return of migrants, according to the conclusions of the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) in three related English-language studies into the effectiveness of Dutch and European return policy. 

Together with these sub-reports you can find the summary for the overarching study.

Read sub-report 1: Intergovernmental relations and return - An assessment of the validity and reliability of EU data on orders to leave and the return of third country nationals

Read sub-report 2: Intergovernmental relations and return - Part 2: From paper to practice? EU-wide and bilateral return frameworks between EU+ and non EU+ countries and their effects on enforced return

Read sub-report 3: Intergovernmental relations and return - Part 3: Beyond return frameworks - An exploration of Dutch and Norwegian intergovernmental strategies to implement enforced return to Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq

These studies show that legally binding readmission agreements independently signed by European countries with countries of origin increase the rate of return by 5% to 10%. However, readmission agreements signed at the EU level have no demonstrable effect on the rates of voluntary or forced return. Non-binding agreements not signed at the EU level also have no demonstrable effect on migrant return.

More than just agreements on paper are needed

The WODC studies also show that the Netherlands works with countries of origin on readmission cooperation by creating goodwill. For example, the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V) invests in personal relationships with authorities in countries of origin and can provide financial support in cases of both voluntary and forced return. The service also takes a pragmatic approach to return procedures, for example by dealing with authorities in countries of origin directly instead of with embassies in the Netherlands. Countries often have no interest in taking migrants back. Accordingly, readmission cooperation with certain regions can be difficult, in spite of the above strategies, particularly if the migrants themselves do not wish to return. In addition, according to DT&V representatives, it seems that in relationships with countries of origin, other Dutch interests such as commercial interests or cooperation in the fight against jihadism often outweigh forced return. In the studies, the Netherlands was compared with Norway, which has had similar experiences with migrant return.

A closer look at readmission agreements outside of the European Commission

In the past few years, the Netherlands has been strongly committed to the European agreements. The assumption that those agreements would be more effective is not supported by the available return figures. The WODC recommends learning more about bilateral readmission agreements. Why do these agreements have some effect on the rate of return, when European-level agreements have none?

The WODC also calls for more research to be performed that compares different European countries, to better identify the advantages and disadvantages of different return strategies. It also recommends taking steps to make it easier to compare international return figures. Finally, it seems inevitable that some migrants with no right of residence will not return to their country of origin. Accordingly, it would be advisable to investigate alternatives to migrant return, for example following the example of Germany or other countries.

The studies were based on a comprehensive statistical analysis of European return figures for the period 2008–2019 and 18 in-depth interviews with experts from the Netherlands and Norway, and from certain European and intergovernmental institutions.